Room by Emma Donoghue (2010)

If you’re looking for a book to read on a plane—a page turner that might avert your attention from the crying baby in the seat behind you—then this might be a good choice.  It did keep me turning the page, but if I had something better to read, I think I would have put this down and picked up a another book.  This felt a lot like a really long sensational People Magazine article about a woman who is abducted and locked in a shed by a lunatic.  Though the author claims the story is not based on any particular real life incident, it feels a lot like the Elizabeth Smart case or the Jaycee Lee Dugard story–or a combination of the two.  The book is narrated by Jack, a child who just turned 5 and has not had contact with the world beyond this shed that he and his mom live in, other than nightly visits by their captor.  But they do have a TV, and Jack has ‘TV friends.”  So here’s the problem: the author writes from the perspective of a child who has never been in the real world, but the author is not a psychologist or social worker, and she hasn’t worked with victims of captivity.  I think she’s writing beyond what she knows.  For example, Jack often speaks in improper past tense despite his mother’s constant corrections (“I rided” and “I forgetted”), but a few months later, he’s watching his mother being interviewed for TV and he can recount the entire interview in adult words and thoughts.  His character is inconsistent, and the shift in perspective simply doesn’t work. As well, there are moments where believability is a real issue.  Spoiler alert: Honestly, would Old Nick assume Jack is dead and not even check to see if he’s breathing? I doubt it.

Still, the book did make me think.  As a mom, how would I raise my child in a 11 X 11 room?  How would I protect him? What would I choose to tell him and not tell him?  How would I keep him healthy and sane and entertained?  How would I find the patience and calm to not take my frustration and anger out on my child? I found all of those issues intriguing, especially after reading sections where Ma laid out a daily exercise plan, practiced excellent hygiene, and devised a plan to keep her son safe while she suffered night after night.

There are plenty of other books out there that are written much better than this, but my theory is that every book has something to teach, something to be learned or thought about.  And this book did make me think.  I’ll give it that much.  (fiction)

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